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UK politicians gun for Murdoch

world Updated: Jul 13, 2011 02:11 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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After holding out for a week, media baron Rupert Murdoch referred a controversial bid to take over British broadcaster BSkyB to the country’s Competition Commission.

But his reported plan to buy time ran against the full weight of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who on Tuesday accused his British newspapers of hiring “known criminals.”

Brown became the senior most political leader to join a growing chorus of outrage against Murdoch’s British subsidiary News International, when he accused its leading daily tabloid, ‘The Sun’, of “working through links that they had to the criminal underworld” to get news stories.

The former Labour leader and finance minister said he and his wife Sarah were left "in tears" in 2006 when the paper called up to inform them that it was running with a story about his infant son Fraser’s illness — cystic fibrosis.

“If I, with all the protection and all the defences and all the security that a chancellor of the exchequer or a Prime Minister has, [am] so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, unlawful tactics, to methods that have been used in the way that we've found — what about the ordinary citizen?” Brown said.

Murdoch’s stable of newspapers is accused of hacking into the voicemail messages of celebrities, the royal family, a murdered schoolgirl and families of war dead and terror victims.

He shut down the main paper facing the charges, the ‘News of the World’, but others too are now thought to have employed similar means.

As anger spread among MPs and ordinary Britons, News Corp bowed to demands to refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission — an offer that was gratefully seized by prime minister David Cameron.

Murdoch is already the controlling shareholder in BSkyB, which owns Sky Television, but wants to increase its stake from the current 39% to 100% — a move that is bitterly opposed by British MPs across the political landscape.